Holding your upper body off the ground, in a straight line, may seem easy — only if you’ve never done it before! Performing a plank requires strength and endurance, but the gains to your fitness make it well worth the effort.
Plank exercises have several benefits, the most important one being core conditioning. The core is a complex series of muscles (and not just your abs!) that are in play with almost every move you make. So any movement that works your core is going to exercise more than one muscle group. Planks also help develop strength in the shoulders, arms and glutes. It’s one exercise that can help tone your belly, strengthen your lower back and improve your balance and posture. Also, planks are a great way to stretch and relax muscles groups that often become stiff from prolonged sitting.
How to do a Standard Plank
- Lie on the floor. Hold your elbows directly under your shoulders and place your wrists in line with your elbows.
- Push your body up and hold your chin close to your neck (like you’re holding an ping pong ball between your chin and your throat).
- In this position, contract your abs (like you’re expecting someone to punch you in the tummy) and squeeze your tailbone and thigh muscles. Pull in your bellybutton and do a Kegel squeeze (draw your lower pelvic muscles up and hold them tight) to focus on your abdominal muscles.
- Hold this position for at least 20 to 30 seconds, while breathing normally. Rest for a minute; repeat three to five times.
Note: If you don’t have the core strength to do a regular plank, you can build up to it by doing a bent-knee plank. Get in the standard plank position but keep your knees bent and touching the floor, then hold the plank for as long as you can. By bending your knees, you take some of the bodyweight out of the plank and make it easier to perform.
10-minute workout with 4 Plank Exercises
Plank exercises can be performed in many different directions — front, side and reverse — as each engages different sets of muscles for toning and strengthening.
This 10-minute workout plan can be followed three times a week for best results. You can do all these exercises high plank style based on your comfort level (by placing your palms, not elbows, to the ground).
Start with 10 reps of the standard plank and then move on to:
Side planking targets your obliques, which stabilize your spine.
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- Get into the plank position.
- Rotate your right shoulder and hip up toward the ceiling, twisting your feet so that the inside of your right foot and the outside of your left foot rest on the floor. Return to the starting position. Do five reps on both sides.
Cross Body planking also targets your obliques.
- Get into the plank position.
- Lift your right leg three inches off the floor and draw your right knee diagonally toward your chest until your knee taps your left elbow (or armpit, if you’re resting on your forearms). Return to the starting position. Do 10 reps on both sides.
Targets your glutes, hamstrings, abs and lower back
- Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you.
- Place your palms on the floor, below your shoulders, squeeze your buttocks and thighs and then push your body up into a reverse plank position. (For an easier lift, place your elbows on the floor). Do 10 reps.
Remember to roll your wrists and shoulders before changing moves.
Watch out for these mistakes
- Overdoing planks can cause injury. If you feel any neck or low back pain, stop. It’s a sign your core is too weak and that you may need to lose weight.
- If you’re just starting out, hold the plank position for a few seconds only and work your way up to a point where you can hold it for longer.
- Don’t allow your hips, head or shoulders to drop.
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